11 July 2024

For decades, Thailand and Cambodia have fostered cooperation through educational projects. One prime example of such is Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Education Project for the Kingdom of Cambodia. This initiative grants life-changing opportunities to high-performing Cambodian students, allowing them to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees at Thai universities.

To gain a deeper understanding of their experiences, Thai PBS World spoke with scholarship recipients about the challenges they faced living in Thailand, including the impacts of online disagreements and how their studies have transformed their lives.

Culture shock

Being neighboring countries, Thailand and Cambodia naturally have some similarities.In reality, however, there are significant differences and these can result in culture shock for Cambodian students.

“At first, I didn’t think it would be that much different. Once living there (in Thailand), I realised that many things are similar but not quite the same, such as the food, travel, lifestyle and the people around me”, said Loem Maryneth, a former student at Silpakorn University.

Hey Sokboromey, a bachelor’s degree graduate at Rambhai Barni Rajabhat University, found herself in a similar situation. It took her one semester to adapt to the Thai environment. During that time, she endured some hardship, with the most challenging aspect being participation in the freshman ‘welcoming ceremony’.

“At the beginning, I felt depressed. I asked myself whether I had made the right decision to study here, because there was tremendous pressure”, she said.

She revealed that she was already under pressure to learn Thai, plus the legal terms and language in the news, which were difficult enough, yet she also had to attend the ‘welcoming activity’ after class every day and that was too overwhelming. She said, “I was so frightened. Every morning, I dreaded facing the challenges of the day”.

Hey Sokboromey, a former student at Rambhai Barni Rajabhat University.

Impact of online arguments

The conflicts over cultural heritage ownership between Thai and Cambodian netizens have been ongoing for a while. One of the most controversial was when a group of patriotic Khmers claimed that Thai Boxing, or Muay Thai, originally came from Cambodia and is called Kun Khmer. This led to the renaming of Muay Thai to Kun Khmer at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. In response, Thailand refused to send its national Muay Thai team to compete.

There have been many more claims since then. As a consequence of these online conflicts spilling into the physical world, some Cambodian students have found themselves in a dilemma.

“Sometimes it can be stressful. Just imagine when a single short sentence, criticised by someone, can escalate into a major issue and the news is widely covered in the media. As a Communication Arts student, teachers, friends and people around me bombard me with questions, seeking an explanation”, Sokboromey said.

Moreover, that situation put immense pressure on her to respond to questions on behalf of her own country. She had to make judgments about whether something was right or wrong, while her personal stance was actually in the middle.

Similarly, Ya Sreypov, a former student at Burapha University, also encountered this issue. “I responded to that person by explaining that I came here to study and didn’t want to cause any conflict. I didn’t talk too much”, said Sreypov.

Despite that, she was not aggravated. She understood them. She explained that, when people consume a lot of biased information, it can lead them to form negative opinions. In this case, some targeted her simply because she is Cambodian.

“I understand their reaction, though. With more knowledge and critical thinking, people can learn to distinguish fact from prejudice,” Sreypov explained.

Ya Sreypov, a former student at Burapha University.

Transforming lives

When asked about the skills and knowledge gained in Thailand which they consider most valuable, Neak Piseth, a master’s degree graduate at Chulalongkorn University, replied that, before he went to Thailand, he felt that it was easy to say anything. After further study, however, he realised that one cannot simply say anything without evidence.

“It reminds me of the quote, “The more you learn, the more you don’t know”, Piseth said.

Neak Piseth, a former student at Chulalongkorn University.

He elaborated, saying that his time in Thailand broadened his perspective and shifted his paradigms in terms of thinking. It influenced his approach to conducting research and problem-solving. He began to see problems from different angles. “Those are all the things that I could learn from Thais”, he reflected.

Loem Maryneth, a former student at Silpakorn University.

Meanwhile, Maryneth, a graduate of the Faculty of Management Science, emphasised the understanding of the significance of the soft skills she gained during her studies in Thailand. “Initially, I was an introvert, hesitant to speak up or express myself”, she recalled.

A course on presentation skills and effective communication transformed her approach though. The course focused on soft skills, good manners and professional interactions with others.

“I also learned customer service skills, which I can directly apply to my work”, Maryneth concluded.

By Att Boonyatus

Video version https://www.thaipbsworld.com/living-in-thailand-cambodian-students-perspectives/